Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Everything Changes, Nothing Is Lost

A little piece of my heart left me on Sunday. My incredible friend, my inspiration (he’d hate me calling him that, but it’s true), my cancer counterpart, Steve Dickter, passed away on Sunday, enduring complications from his donor stem cell transplant.

Jen, Steve and me at our first in-person encounter. 
I’ve never had such a physical reaction to news. I saw the simple two-sentence e-mail from his wife, Jen, with the subject line “sad news” and I burst into violent, choking heaves of crying. I got so hot and kept pulling off layers – unzipping my jacket, clumsily unraveling my scarf that suddenly began to strangle me.

Craig pulled over the car not having any idea what I was reacting to until I threw the phone at him, he read the message, put his hand on my leg and let me sob it out. He was visibly reeling as well. When I could finally speak, all I could say was that I felt like my heart had broken. My chest was in knots that have yet to untangle.

Steve and I were partners in this cancer journey. We were the ones that were going to make it far past this. He was my constant sounding board, advocate, interpreter, and reality check.

In the crazy, uncomfortable world of cancer treatment where no one knows what to say, he always had the right words. He was very real and honest, witty and ballsy. So smart and so modest. Steve was as authentic as it gets. He was kind, loyal, compassionate, thoughtful and genuine.

He was just a few years older than me. We had the same disease. We had the same attitude toward it: action, defiance, education, at times, acceptance and frustration. We endured all the same drugs. He also had a spouse that loves him tremendously and he the same – a beautiful relationship. We both were in the communications field. We both got riled up about current events. He wrote a fantastic blog full of clear, funny, sarcastic, insightful and informative writing. We both loved music and lyrics and quotes. Eddie Vedder’s “Rise” was one of our shared motivation songs and he introduced me to Colin Hay. The only thing that separated us was the whole of the United States – he stumbling through this on West Coast time, me on East.

His blog was the first that I found of someone just like me; he seemed like a very cool person that I’d want to be friends with and we just happened to have the same disease. I reached out and he e-mailed right back saying, “Woah, where have you been?” returning the blog compliments I had given him after he read through my posts. I found him in the very beginning, just six months into my treatment. He was ahead of me, so I was able to learn from and follow his lead, his tips on side effects and coping mechanisms, his ups and downs. Then I relapsed first, then he relapsed and followed me, then I, then he. Our paths have been so, so similar.

Our relationship grew and evolved together as we got deeper and deeper into this journey. We rejoiced in each other’s positive news and were defeated when we heard of relapses or infections, always there for each other to lean on. The messages from him and his wife resonated on a different level.

After e-mailing for a couple of years, we met for the first time in person in New York City, and I hung out and talked with him in his friend’s apartment like we’d been best buds since the elementary school playground. When we parted ways after grabbing a bite with Jen, he gave me a huge hug on a city curb and said: “I love you, Karin Diamond.” And I said, “I love you, Steve Dickter” back. It was one of the most real exchanges I have ever had in my life.

We stayed with Steve and Jen in LA the following year and felt as if we’d been in their apartment many times before. Steve and I napped in between the day and evening events, while Jen and Craig sat in the living room and talked caregiver and life talk while we patients rejuvenated.

We went out to dinner where we shared so many laughs – especially about the odd rotating white board listing that evening’s offerings, which would be crossed out by the minute as they were ordered by others – decisions had to be made quick. We laughed a lot about this.

When things got hard, he would tell me that it wasn’t me, that it was the drugs, not us, making us walk around like zombies until our spouses came home to infuse some life into us. He helped me to know not to blame myself and helped to teach me that we can’t let this disease limit us: he was teaching college courses during treatment and pursuing his Master’s degree in communication – writing his thesis while an inpatient in transplant recovery, while also managing several fantasy football leagues, and somehow remembering to check in with me.  

Steve attached this word art to the last e-mail he sent me.
We talked about how our ovaries hurt when we see cute babies, how we hate that we can’t always be there in the way we want to for our spouses, about our futures and all of the beautiful things they held. We would joke about how life doesn’t give a shit that you’re in cancer treatment and it still brings the normal drama of everyday life to manage: flooding basements, unplanned townhouse repairs.  

We talked about how people would tell us we’re inspirations or heroes and how that’s so hard to accept as all we’re doing is what needs to be done. But then, we’d each find ourselves calling each other that. He told me I had Moxie. We said that we were each other’s lights in the tunnel. 

We had a sadistic humor that we could be comfortable and open with, making each other laugh in really horrible situations.

He helped me see straight, he helped me find treatment drugs, he helped me clean up my treatment timeline document so that I could find the doctors I needed. We sure didn’t want this situation, but we both did our fucking best with it, managing our lives with clear focus and determination, but keeping the fun factor alive.  

He always told me that: “This too shall pass.” I suppose it’s a reminder that everything is transient, including the lives of those we hold the most dear. He has passed, but I am forever grateful that he passed through my life. He was one of my greatest gifts.

I am deeply saddened and hurt so badly for his wife Jen, the most devoted wife, friend, caregiver, and cancer researcher I’ve ever come across. She is a beautiful person, and I wish that she didn’t have to deal with this heartache.

It’s going to be very hard to move on in this without him. I have a huge hole in me. I can’t stop reading the posts on his Facebook page and looking at the pictures friends are posting of him from a life before I knew him. All I can do is carry his spirit in my heart and let it guide me through this and defeat this disease for the both of us.

His birthday is my donor stem cell transplant re-birthday, and I’ll forever dedicate June 16 to him. Right now, I’m just in total disbelief and it hurts very badly; I’m grieving very deeply. It’s not supposed to be this way. I miss him and my heart hurts for beautiful Jen.  

He told me that this was one of his favorite mantras: "Omnia mutantur, nihil interit" (Everything changes, nothing is lost.). This change is a tough one for me to swallow, but I know he is not lost because his light will carry on in the love and the lessons he left the countless people whose lives he touched while here with us.


  1. Thank you for your beautiful post. I knew he and my sister were very involved in his treatment and had helped people in the same wards he had been staying in. Did not know about you or other specific people for whom he had taken the time to help and encourage. He was much loved.

  2. Karin, I don't believe I have ever commented on your blog but I have been a reader since I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's in February of 2011. I went back through then and read all of your posts and have read every one of them since. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. I am in tears reading about him and wish that I could have known him too, he sounds like such a beautiful human being. Sending you virtual hugs and comfort.

  3. He was diagnosed a few months before me. I read his blog all the time. I felt like I knew him. He was so cool. I'm happy you got to meet him, and devastated by his passing. I'm sorry.

  4. I knew Stephen through work. I didn't work with him that many times since was diagnosed soon after I met him. He really was a light. One of those people you just want to be around. The guy was hilarious.
    He had the same diagnosis, at nearly the exact same time as my father in law. My father in law seemed to sail through treatment and into remission. I just assumed the same would be true for Stephen.
    The news of his passing was totally unexpected. I was just waiting for the news that he and Jen were returning home, and they were getting back to normal things.
    I never wanted to bug him with phone calls and emails. His blog said things were already so crazy.
    I wish I had done more.

  5. Dearest Karin,
    Thank you for sharing from your heart and soul ... A beautiful testimony about a beautiful person from a beautiful person ... My heart aches.
    You remain in my healing prayers,
    Anne from Miracle House
    and from Nebraska

  6. Hi Karin,
    I met Steve shortly after he moved to Los Angeles, and am in so much shock and heartache over his passing. I still can't believe it's true. As you say, he was one of a kind, hilarious, an amazing communicator, a great friend, and a generous soul. I write a blog about kids and creativity, and he would pop over to comment on my blog just because he cared about me. And it was selfless gestures like this that made him (and Jen) so endearing and genuine. I'll never forget him. Thank you for the beautiful celebration of your friendship with him. it sounds like you were both so lucky to have crossed paths.
    Much love, Rachelle

  7. "Each friend represents a world within us, a world possibly not born until they arrive." (by Anais Nin) The encouragement, understanding and friendship you shared is special. Sending you light today and always.

  8. Another terrible loss. I'm so sorry. I know how quickly and deeply bonds can be formed because of this damned disease, and I have no doubt that you and Steve were precious to each other. Stupid fucking cancer.

  9. I'm so saddened by Stephen's passing. His was the first cancer blog I found when my dear friend was diagnosed and he is how I found you. He was so helpful over email and I was really rooting for him. Your post is so beautiful. -Sarah B.

  10. Hi Karin, I'm Steve's sister-in-law (Len's wife). I read this post when Jen shared it and wanted to meet you at the memorial but it was so busy and my kids are manic (my older daughter Lola spoke about Steve at the 'service') so I didn't get the chance. I'm just one more person following your blog and reading great wisdom and beauty in your words. We miss Steve so much. We moved to LA partly to be with him and he never came home. Jen is loved and cared for by us and her dear great friends. I just wanted you to know. Thanks for sharing your feelings - you described beautifully the feelings that many of us had but couldn't express as elegantly as you. Polly